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Ferragosto: The Italian Superholiday of August 15

If you’ve ever been to Italy in August, especially mid-August, you will have noticed that the whole country seems to be on holiday, businesses included.  The only enterprises that are 100% operational are the bathing establishments, bursting at the seams with deeply tanned bodies, scampering children, and an air of utterly carefree enjoyment.

So what is up with this August shut-down of a nation?

It all goes back to Ferragosto.

The tradition of Ferragosto goes back over 2,000 years, tracing the evolving story of the nation from times long before there even was a nation.  To the Italian people, Ferragosto is the most beloved of holidays, so much so that one would think its celebration were imprinted on their very DNA.

Ferragosto: its roots and history

The Feriae Augusti date back to Roman times, when the Emperor Augustus declared the festival in 18 BC.  After the long and arduous summer season of cultivation, the holiday was inaugurated to give workers a rest from their toil in the fields.  Originally the holiday fell on August 1.

Fast forward many centuries, to when the Catholic Church is calling the shots.  In order to include a religious component in the holiday, the church moved the date of Ferragosto to August 15 — the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  This feast day commemorates Mary’s bodily ascension into heaven.

Ferragosto in modern times

Ferragosto these days is synonymous with an exodus of Italian residents from the city to the sea or mountains.  The vast majority of businesses are closed, except for some restaurants and cafés (and, of course, the bagni, the seaside bathing establishments).

During the era of fascism Mussolini invented schemes to aid the less privileged classes, whereby they could travel very cheaply by train to the seaside or to visit cultural sites.  The people packed lunches and picnicked on shores and lawns, a tradition which continues to this day, irrespective of social class.

Ferragosto in Rome: what to expect

During Ferragosto in Rome public trasport is running, but on the festivi schedule.

Most archeological sites are open on August 15.  The Vatican museums, however, are closed.

Ferragosto can be a pleasant time to visit Rome, if you don’t mind the heat.  You will find streets and parks pretty much empty, and a parking space or shady spot on a lawn easy to find.

We are here and ready to help

At DriverInRome we are always here to help with your city tours of Rome and day trips to other places in Italy, even during the holidays of August. 

What better way to beat the heat and tour Rome in total comfort than an air-conditioned vehicle with your own private driver?  Parliamone!

Please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or to make a booking.

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